If you’ve been keeping up with our blog post series, you may have noticed that we talk a lot about the value of the Project Manager (PM). It’s true: we consider our PMs to be essential for doing business.
But there’s another type of PM that works at a tech company: the Product Manager. These two roles are very often confused (sometimes even within the tech industry!) so we thought we’d try and help clear things up.
I had the opportunity of talking to Mariano Jurich, QA at Making Sense, who has recently been involved in a project performing a new role: Project Manager. Mariano shared with me his experience, his thoughts and clear my mind on how both roles could interact during a software development project.
Product Manager vs. Project Manager
If you’d like a quick explanation, the difference between a Product Manager and a Project Manager could be summed up like this:
- A Product Manager says, “We need this”.
- A Project Manager says, “Here’s how we’ll get it done on time”.
Let’s break that down to really get to the heart of the matter.
All this is important because it sheds light on the main goal of a product manager: to keep customers happy. In order to do that job, the Product Manager is there from the initial contact with the customer and stakeholders.
They listen to the client, making sure they understand their needs. From there, they gather requirements for the product. The vision comes from the Product Manager. They create the vision after the intense initial steps of the development framework. Here at Making Sense, this happens during the “Discovery Phase”. It’s where we interview stakeholders, brainstorm ideas, and perform other types of qualitative research into a new product.
And, as we explained above, products are in a continuous state of evolution until they get retired. Therefore, any product manager needs to have a Big Picture view of the product, sticking with its development through every iteration, from the moment they meet the customer to well beyond the moment the MVP is issued. They keep tabs on how well the user responds to the product. They prioritize the development jobs. They keep the vision alive. And since they stick with the product over time, they come to have an intuition about its viability, its performance, and whether it’s still meeting business goals. In that last regard, they also oversee revenue goals. They measure profits and competitive advantage, too, which means they may also collaborate with marketing and sales to get the insight they require for making decisions about the life of a product.
Takeaway: Product Managers are concerned with pleasing the customer and keeping them happy with a great product that evolves to continue pleasing them. They need to know if and when to change a product or retire it, in order to meet business goals.
These managers are less about vision and more about execution. They are concerned with deadlines, delivery and budgets. We can say that they are the representatives of the software development team. It’s their job to take the vision set forth by the Product Manager and turn it into a series of tactical goals. They need to translate vision into clear instructions and clearly-defined goals for the team, in other words.
Their timelines are defined and precise, unlike those of the Product Managers, whose timelines stretch far into the future of the product, extending throughout the entire product lifecycle.
Project Managers on a tech development team think about risk management. They look for problems and try to minimize risks so the project gets done on time. They manage teams.
They also worry about resource allocation. How many employees will it take for each project? Will there be time to finish A,B, and C before we begin D, E, and F? Will the support staff be stretched too thin?
Finally, their worst nightmare is project scope. This is where all their best-laid plans to finish on time and within budget get blown apart by a new set of expectations. Maybe it’s a shortened timeline. Maybe it’s a new set of features. Maybe they need to develop a new version of the original product. All this must be managed by the Project Manager in order to maintain the quality of the product that was originally agreed upon with the Product Manager, making emphasis on communication, status report.
Takeaway: Project Managers are concerned with keeping things moving to stay on schedule and within budget, all the while ensuring a quality product.
Project Managers and Product Managers do have some overlap in their interests: creating great products that please the end management that a successful product requires.
As Ron Yang says: “Product and project managers each perform unique functions. When align properly they both can shine”.
Communication and understanding between both roles, is key to achieve success. For Mariano, the right thing would be that every product has a Product Manager that could aligned, together with the Project Manager, team efforts. They have both different mindsets, that if put together, they can create outstanding results.
Want to know more? Take a look at this post, where we explore the role of Jennifer, one of our Senior Project Managers here at Making Sense.